COVINGTON -- If you could know that a new type of flu was making the rounds in your ZIP code, how valuable would that information be to you? How valuable would it be to hospitals in the area?
The creators of Healthcast think it would be very valuable. That's why they've put about $50,000 of their own money into building an online platform for reporting and gathering health information at the local level.
How will it work?
Users would log on to the Healthcast website to keep a daily record of how they're feeling and any health problems they're having. It's something we should all be doing already because it's the single most important thing a person can do to stay healthy, said Healthcast co-founder Glenn Lawyer.
Healthcast would aggregate that data anonymously and combine it with reports from other users so it could spot trends and outbreaks. It would notify users about outbreaks in their area and let them know that afflictions like their sniffles might be caused by a spike in the pollen count.
How will it make money?
It would cost nothing to sign up and participate, Lawyer said, and users wouldn't see any ads onsite. Healthcast would make money by charging for the data it collects. Potential customers might be pharmaceutical companies, which could use the data in making advertising decisions, Lawyer said.
Where'd the idea come from?
Lawyer saw the need for more localized health reporting at the Max Planck Institutes in Germany, where he started working in 2009. There, he made mathematical models of how viruses are spread.
"Infectious diseases are a fact in a real and scary way," he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it sees one new emerging disease per year that presents a global threat, he added.
Some outbreaks are slow to be reported because sufferers put off going to the doctor or never go, he said.
Who are the other founders?
Tobias Theobald, a native of Germany, and Tariq Khaleeq, a native of Pakistan, both of whom Lawyer met at Max Planck. Lawyer grew up in Boston and Minnesota, but moved to Sweden after he married a native Swede, Ann-Charlotte Lawyer. They later moved to Luxembourg, a tiny country on the German border.
Healthcast was first conceived in 2015, but the founders had trouble securing financing because it wasn't obvious to investors that it could work as a business, Lawyer said. The founders wanted it to be a business rather than a government entity, he said, because they wanted to make it more directly accountable to people.
In September, after Healthcast was accepted into the UpTech business accelerator in Covington, the founders all moved to Northern Kentucky. Healthcast was also accepted into an accelerator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lawyer said, but the founders chose UpTech instead because of its strong focus on community.
UpTech chose Healthcast because it has a team that can "accurately process the data and build a meaningful solution for the market," said UpTech Program Director J.B. Woodruff. Also, UpTech believes it can leverage its relationships in the local health care community to get Healthcast in front of the right people.
Healthcast is looking for beta testers willing to help it perfect its prototype and get it ready to market to the public this spring, Lawyer said. Those individuals or businesses that are interested can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's clear that the business will work only as well as the people who sign up to report on their health, said Rebecca Arbona, president and "brand weaver" for the local branding company Tapestry Strategy, and a volunteer mentor for Healthcast and other UpTech startups.
In order to get people to sign up, she said, the company has to determine what's most compelling to people about its product and design it accordingly. "They have an idea. Now they need an execution," she said.
She's excited to be working with Healthcast, she said, because it deals with something so relevant to everyday life.
"Everyone gets sick, and everyone wants to figure out how to avoid or face sickness," she said.